Children with disabilities face an uncertain future in Bangladesh’s capital city of Dhaka. Poverty is widespread. Disability remains stigmatized. Teachers often lack the specialized training required to meet their unique learning needs.
That’s why so many parents who bring in their children for assessments at Dhaka Children’s Hospital arrive with low expectations.
“They have no hope,” said Asma Shilpi, a member of the Educational Leadership Program (ELP) Class of 2017 at Perkins School for the Blind. “Some parents have no expectations at all.”
As a developmental therapist at the government-run hospital, Shilpi performs dozens of assessments every week on children ages 0-9 with a variety of disabilities. Her job is to evaluate each child’s specific disabilities, and suggest strategies for helping that child develop and learn. She makes parent education a top priority.
“We try to show them their child’s strengths – what they can do,” said Shilpi. “And they’re surprised. They go back home and they become more motivated.”
Shilpi is one of 11 ELP participants currently studying on Perkins’ campus. The nine-month program offers advanced training to teachers of the visually impaired and other professionals from developing nations.
At Perkins, Shilpi is learning about deafblindness, cortical visual impairment and new positioning techniques that can be utilized during a child’s vision assessment. Proper positioning can make children with physical disabilities more comfortable and cooperative.
When she returns to Bangladesh, she plans to share her new knowledge and skills by training staff at her hospital and others across the country.
“I’m on the right track,” said Shilpi. “I am learning so much and gaining advanced knowledge that will help improve the lives of many children back home.”
Shilpi began working at Dhaka Children’s Hospital in 2005 after earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in child development and family relations.
Her role as a developmental therapist encompasses aspects of physical, occupational and speech/language therapy. At the hospital’s Child Development Centre, she provides assessments in conjunction with a physician and child psychologist.
Shilpi knows that early intervention can make all the difference in a child’s life.
“With brain development, there are windows of opportunity in the first three years,” said Shilpi. “This definitely motivates me.”
Simple adjustments often go a long way in a child’s development.
Shilpi recalled a 2-year-old girl who was struggling to develop language skills. After encouraging her parents to interact with her more, and limit her time spent in front of their television and smartphone, the girl started making immediate progress.
“It was my intention to change the parents’ behavior, not the child’s,” said Shilpi. “Parents play such a vital role in a child’s development.”
Each child with a disability receives six monthly therapy sessions at Dhaka Children’s Hospital. These sessions offer a chance for parents to learn important skills like feeding and positioning techniques, among other strategies.
“We teach the parents how to do it,” said Shilpi. “It’s like their homework. We work together. And between sessions they discover what their children can really do.”